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How important is certification to a Martial Arts Instructor's skill, ability,and credibility ( to teach ) ?

How Important is a Certification to a Martial Arts Instructor’s skill, ability and credibility (to teach)?

For Filipino Martial Arts Instructors: Does a certification give him the right to teach? Does it matter or not? Can you trust a person without him/her showing any certification that he/she can teach the arts.
In today’s world, one’s skill is sometimes affixed to documentation, one of which is a Certificate. It is regarded as proof that one has undergone the process or procedure or the course. But then does it apply to everybody especially to a martial arts instructor? Or can you rely on that instructor’s word that he has indeed acquired the martial arts skill well enough to teach even without a certification? Hope you can share your ideas, comments or suggestions on this topic.

Yours truly,

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Wow so many great answers. to some this piece of paper gives you permission to teach/represent an art.

or someone might start some type of litigation against you. to others its might represent personal growth and you'll never see that certificate. Some will use it to decorate their school and that ok if they really earned it. I have been approached many times and asked what it would take to get certified as a Grandmaster? I tell them a lifetime. They say that they have been doing FMA for 20 or 30 years. I say yes but you don't teach what I teach, you want certification you need to train with me. I don't give anything away you must earn it. My students are lucky if I do a promotion once every 1 to 1 1/2 years. the way I look at it if I give you a piece of paper giving you Rank, then you will be representing me. It's my name, and reputation on the line. I will not dishonor my name or the names of my teachers for a few dollars. then there are the paper chasers who cant wait to get that next piece of paper naming you a master of this and master of that, if you have skill believe in yourself. Some these orgs giving all these ranks only decrease your real standing in the martial arts community. Go out and show your stuff, let people see what your made of. Paper or no paper if you have skill it will show.  

Hello to All,

This is a great topic and the the posts have been very thoughtful and right on target.  I'd like to add a couple more ideas for consideration.  A certificate is an important indicator of training, assuming that was legitimately earned over time and through diligent practice.  It should also be noted that a certificate does not automaticly mean that someone is qualified to or capable of teaching the art that they earned their certificate in.

Teaching is combination of knowledge, skills and understanding of details, plus the ability to communicate effectively with others.  Teaching is based on learned skill behaviors and practice, preferable under some supervision in the early stages of an invidual's career.  It also requires some additional training and information acquisition from time to time.  In my 30+ years in the martial arts I have only come across 2 students who had an instictive, natural ability to teach.  In both cases I was totally surprised by these people and had to step back and watch them for a few weeks in class to determine for myself that they were actually teaching/helping their classmates learn the course material.

I have always made it a requirement for my senior students to help the newer students through coaching activities and assigned the lessons for one on one training sessions.  My goals were to keep the new people moving forward and to give the coach a chance to review their past training and knowledge base through the active process having to explain the techniques and drills.  The coach is as much and perhaps more out of the training session than the newer student they are working with at the time. 

Dan Medina, wrote the following: 

"... you don't teach what I teach, you want certification you need to train with me. I don't give anything away you must earn it. My students are lucky if I do a promotion once every 1 to 1 1/2 years. the way I look at it if I give you a piece of paper giving you Rank, then you will be representing me. It's my name, and reputation on the line. I will not dishonor my name or the names of my teachers for a few dollars."

I love that statement, because it very clearly expresses my feelings about my responsibilities as a teacher.  When a student leaves my instructional program, with ot without a certificate, they do represent me, whether or not I want them to do so.  I believe in earned rank and there is not a specific time frame in my mind for promotions, nor are promotions necessarily a belt by belt step process.  When somone is ready to be promoted, I will promote them and part of the testing format involved how well the student handled their coaching assignments.

Dan Medina also wrote:

"(T)hen there are the paper chasers who cant wait to get that next piece of paper naming you a master of this and master of that, if you have skill believe in yourself. Some these orgs giving all these ranks only decrease your real standing in the martial arts community. Go out and show your stuff, let people see what your made of. Paper or no paper if you have skill it will show."

Again I am in full agreement with Guro Medina.  Skill is Rank!  That is the motto of my good friend GM Tom Bolden and nothing I've come across says it any better. 

Brett Morgan , wrote the following statement: 

"For me, no belt, uniform, piece of paper, or title can tell me whether someone is a good teacher and whether they know their stuff. Getting out there and training with them is the best way I find out if someone is a person that I'd like to teach me."

He's right!  The problem is that beginners do not have any significant means for evaluating whether or not someone is really a qualified and knowledgable person in the art.  Making a judgement on "like-ability" is faulty.  One of the first things a good con man/woman has to master is the ability to get people to like and trust them before they can put their real con into action.  Remember the term "con" is short for "confidence".  I am not saying that teachers should not be liked and respected.  No one will be able to keep their school doors open if they are not well-liked by their students and the parents of young students.

Some of those 'paper chasers' that Guro Medina mentioned in his essay, want the paper so that they can open their schools, attach students and collect money without having to work too hard to get it.  They are conning people in actual fact, but avoiding legal liabilities because they do present some martial arts material as promised in their contracts.  'Paper chasers' very seldom excel at training, they want to go through the motions and get the paper document as quickly and easily as possible.  Their knowledge of the art is at best basic and superficial.   They spend more time mastering the art of "like-ability" and perfecting the image of being "a great guy to have a beer with" than learning and mastering their martial arts skills, abilities and in-depth knowledge. 

Essentually they own and operate a 'one size fits all' instructional program and very often demand loyalty to themselves rather helping their students to grow and mature as individuals.  In short these people are under-prepared instructors who operate in a cult-like manner with the primary objective of retaining students for as long as possible to keep the money flowing in to their pockets.

Simply put, being certified does not translate into being a qualified instructor.  Having a certificate is a good indicator that someone has been trained in the art and has some knowledge of that art which they can share with other people.  The pregnant and unanswered question is how well prepared is the certificate holder to actually teach?  The answer is going to be found on the training floor.

Jerome Barber, Ed. D.

Bruce Lee came to America with no piece of paper saying he knew anything. He proved everything he said first hand. On the flip side, there are "paper champions" out there with 50 certifications, most of which are "store bought", and don't know most of which they claim to be a master in. And again, some martial artists make good teachers, and can relay information, but may not necessarily be able to perform that well, due to medical reasons, age or otherwise. Others may be extremely good at performing a given art, or multiple arts, but may be horrible at relaying the information to others, in a sound step by step approach. To me, it comes down to humility with excitement, and ability to teach each student as an individual, expecting variation, without limitation. No piece of paper can buy what a good teacher can provide. Expecting him to be able to defeat me in a fight is ridiculous, as some were made to be teachers and others warriors. There are a few out there that are both, but those who aren't should never be judged. God made us all beautifully different, and fellow artists are to be respected, as we are all on the same path to self improvement.

Actually, Lee was born in San Francisco.  Lee's father went back to Hong Kong after Lee's birth because he was an actor.  Lee studied many styles and made films in his childhood.  When he  was in HK he allegedly was "All Hong Kong Champion" (high school age) and studied under Yip Man.  He rejected Yip Man's Wing Chun style by the time he got to the states because it was too rigid and formal (forms), thus creating the foundation of his art, which he claimed had no style, and no forms.  He came back to the US at age 18, and wanted to continue to study martial arts and making movies, and his father wanted to get him out of HK because he was getting in too many fights.

Lee met Dan Inosanto who was a well studied Filipino martial artist when he came to California, who studied in Stockton under everyone that he could, but primarily Bahala Na.  I think that Inosanto was graduate #1 at Bahala Na #1 Club in Stockton, and then he taught Bruce Lee what he knew about FMA, while they formed Juan Fan(which was actually his name), and later after Lee's death Jeet Kun Do.



Bruce Lee being born in San Francisco would be important, if he never was taken back to China. I'm aware of his history, but keeping a long story short seemed fitting in order to stay on point. He came to America with no "certifications".....not from San Francisco......from Hong Kong, China. The question was about teaching qualifications, not the history of JKD. No offense intended.

One way that I interpret certifications is comparing them to a high school diploma. It shows a standardization of basic knowledge. But that knowledge is still useless until its actually applied and turns into wisdom. How can someone be a good teacher without having the life experience to back it up? That's like being a swimming instructor without ever having jumped in a swimming pool or the ocean himself! For me, the moment someone starts off with spouting their credentials, red flags pop up. You can tell me a billion things you know but I'm not convinced til I see it in action. So if you're a teacher, certified or not, your ability to show what you're talking about is measured by the students understanding of how you teach them that will validate your skill as an instructor.

Great comments by all. This subject has come up several times in this forum in the past few years and for the most part the general opinion seems to be the same. A piece of paper does not guarantee skill or knowledge, it just states that a person has been awarded a title. Some certificates are worth their weight in gold and some are not worth the paper they are written on. How does someone make the distinction of which is which, that is the big question. In general most seem to agree that the teaching skills will validate the ability, but we have all met the martial artist that has no paper but is a person not to be messed with if you value your life. My 2 masters GGM Pedoy and Batikan Pedoy did not hold certificates, but if you had the thought of challenging them, well good luck on walking out of the dojo in one piece if at all. Over the years as with the opinion of all of the commenters, I too have met several martial artists that had plenty of titles and certificates but in my humble opinion, I thought the information they gave out was generally dangerous to the person that was receiving the teachers info by creating a false sense of knowledge in their students. On the other hand I have friends and training partners that have no title or certificate, but the last thing I would do is want to fight them as it would be an epic fight probably to the near death, they are good people to have on "your side" in a street fight. As far as organizations that will officiate titles or certificates, that is a very slippery slope, not a bad idea, but yet politics seem to dominate most of the organizations even when they have the best of intentions. In my 30+ years of training and teaching I have also had a few people ask for my certificates, I have never shown my instructor or masters certificate to anyone. In the rare occassion when I have been asked, I tell that person to talk to my students or instructors some of whom have trained me for 20 years and ask them if I am qualified to teach, that usually answers any questions and if they are still not satisified I suggest they might go somewhere to train where the instructors certificates are hanging on the dojo wall. I am one of only a very very small group of people that holds a certificate signed by my 2 masters, but I do not feel that piece of paper entitles me to wave it around like a flag to tell others that I am such an such person to be respected. But rather holding those sacred pieces of paper bonds me to the lineage of a combat art that is dedicated to saving the lives of those that come after me. A certificate should never be given out just because someone shows up, but rather because someone has earned the right to hold that piece of paper. The certificate does not teach the art, the teacher teaches the art. Aloha!!

It is essential when asked, but everybody has to prove what he can do first. A fight record would prove much worth that his technique works unless he's claiming to be an undefeated master where he had never really physically fought in his life. just an idea.



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